Category Archives: Dogs

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The culture of canine care – is the UK lifestyle damaging our dogs?

Spike's World

Moving from the UK to Slovakia was sure to be a culture shock – the language barrier, the weather, the crazy traffic; it’s easy to think that life in Eastern Europe may be more stressful than back in the UK, but what about life for Slovak dogs?

When I first moved here I was amazed at how relaxed and well behaved the dogs are. Many pet parents walk the wide pavements with their dogs off the lead, or on a very loose lead. There is little to no barking, no dog aggression, no pulling on the lead, no jerking of leads, just lots of very chilled canines.

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I can’t help wonder why there is this massive cultural difference between Slovakia and the UK… Now, I’m not saying that all dogs in the UK are crazed canines, but we certainly have a generation of dogs that in all honesty, are under exercised and under stimulated. The ‘weekend warrior’ pet owner with a dog that only sees the outside world at weekends (if it’s lucky) can be spotted a mile off buy conscientious dog owners.

Pulling on the flat collar attached to a lead can damage a dog’s delicate trachea

Here in Slovakia, it’s common to see dogs being walked at all times of the day and joining their pet parents in the local bars for drink or accompanying them to the market (even helping by carrying a basket!).  Could this greater integration of dogs into family life be the key to their well mannered behaviour?   It certainly is food for thought.

Basket dog

This beautiful German Shepherd was carrying a wicker basket to the market. Note the way it walks on a relaxed, loose leash.

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Do we have a nation of unemployed dogs?

Spike's World

Last weekend was the fantastic SPARCS conference, an annual gathering of some of the finest minds in canine science. This event brings together researchers from a wide range of canine related fields, but if Twitter was anything to go by, it was clear that there was one standout word on the lips of everyone involved this year – EUSTRESS.

Eustress in essence means ‘good stress’ and was initially explored in model looking at stress in its many forms (Lazarus 1974). We often consider stress to be a negative emotion, yet many of us fail to recognise that the feelings of anticipation and even the joy at meeting a friend can all be considered stress, in terms of the physiological release of cortisol. Stress is managed through the activation of the HPA (hypothalamic, pituitary, adrenal) axis which is a group of organs that regulate the response to stress.

eustress

 

Responsible breeders strive to expose puppies to small stressors as they develop which helps in the deployment of this stress system. Experiencing an appropriate level of stress allows the HPA axis to develop resilience, stopping an overreaction to stress in adult life. However, too much stress can swing the pendulum too far into distress, so this must be carefully managed to not cause more harm than good.

How do modern dogs experience eustress?

Many dogs live very different lives from the lives their breed ancestors would have had. Very few pet Labradors spend hours retrieving game in our modern age and most border collies don’t have access to sheep – these dogs are unemployed. A study by the Kennel Club found 20% of dog owners do not even give their dogs a daily walk!

Lack of exercise and stimulation leads to obesity which has become all too commonplace in many of our animal companions, We have become accustomed to assuming Labradors must be overweight whereas this is far from the truth. Compare these two labradors, both of working type.
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The lack of a job to do and the boredom that goes along with living an unstimulated existence swings the stress pendulum to the realms of chronic distress rather than eustress and can result in physical and behavioural abnormalities.

It’s important to understand that even dogs that do not show obvious outward signs of stress may be suffering – chronic boredom may result in general depression.

Small stressors may help build resilience. One of the most important gifts we can give our canine companions is the ability to cope in new and novel situations. How many of us know dogs that are happy and content at home but bark and new and novel sounds or objects? How many of us have dogs that startle easily when out of the home even though the same stressor may have been tolerated on familiar ground?

Resilience is a key life skill, particularly if a dog has to go into kennels in an emergency or has to stay at the veterinarian for treatment. Dogs that have never left the confines of a house and garden are likely to find this transition very stressful at the one time in life that they need to be kept calm and stress free.

So what’s the answer?

If you have an unemployed dog then it’s time to get them on the payroll.

Look at what motivates your dog and find them a job to do. Try obedience, dock diving, agility, lure coursing (chasing an artificial lure just to be clear!), scent trials, or just getting out and exploring somewhere new and exciting, GIVE THEM A CHALLENGE! Isn’t that why you got a dog anyway?

Dogs deserve to feel fulfilled and to have a life purpose. They have amazing senses adapted to see the world in ways we can only dream of and it’s sad that so many do not get to fulfill their full potential.

Give your dog a job and let’s stem the tide of unemployed dogs.

 

Refs

Lazarus R.S. (1974). Psychological Stress and Coping in Adaptation and Illness. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 5, 321-333.

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Grounding your puppy the fun way!

Spike's World

The Tellington TTouch is a unique and rewarding way of working with all animals, however its name can be a little deceiving.  Many people believe the TTouch to be a form of massage; however this is not the case.  As well as the specific ‘TTouches’ there is also a whole array of ground exercises or ground work as it is known which can have a dramatic effect on mind and body.

Developed over 30 years ago by Linda Tellington Jones, TTouch offers ways to help animals overcome a wide variety of behavioural problems without the use of dominance, fear or force.  Using a combination of bodywork and ground exercises the TTouch aims to improve the physical balance of the animal, as physical balance is achieved so mental and emotional balance follows.  The behaviour of an animal can be linked to its posture in many ways, animals with tension through the hindquarters can often be afraid of loud noises such as fireworks, they may be reluctant to being picked up and placed on a veterinarians table and may be badly behaved in the car.  With the use of TTouch these patterns of tension can be removed along with the unwanted behaviour.

What is ground work and what does it do?

Ground work can be used for many species of animal to improve confidence, coordination, focus and physical, emotional and mental balance.  With the use of various, gentle obstacles which are taken at a slow pace, very often even the most hyperactive animals can be calmed and gain a willingness to learn and cooperate.

How does this work?

Every animal and person uses a sense known as proprioception; this sense gives them and us knowledge of where our bodies are in space.  For example if we close our eyes it is still possible to place your finger on your nose without having to look, for you know where both are.  The sensors for proprioception are located throughout the body, mainly in the joints, muscles and tendons.  By the use of slow, concentrated movements, these receptors are stimulated giving feedback to the body.  With this feedback comes a greater knowledge of the animals own body.  As they say, knowledge is power, and with this knowledge the puppy is able to choose a balanced posture and is far more aware of how it relates to its surroundings.  The body posture of growing puppies is seemingly ever changing, especially in the larger breeds.  Different body parts are growing at different rates, leaving the dog not knowing how it is supposed to walk and having to move in all number of ways.   It is also known that this proprioceptive input actually releases Serotonin, one of the happy hormones as they are known which in turns brings about a calm mental state.  The Ground exercises help in the stimulation of both brain hemispheres, which is so useful for a growing pup and can help to bring about a very well balanced individual.

Walking at whose speed?

Puppies and dogs in general, have a faster walking speed than we do; to walk with a loose lead is in fact very hard for dogs.  If you try walking very slowly, you will find yourself having to think much more about the placement of your feet.  Dogs are just the same except they have four feet to coordinate not just two!  With the use of various exercises it is possible to teach the puppy how to coordinate its legs and to move them independently and mindfully. Often a puppy’s challenging growth can cause areas of tension to appear as the puppy needs to weight its limbs differently, this in turn can cause anxious behaviour from the puppy often resulting in more tension, often around the jaw.  This tension will usually be shown with mouthing and chewing which the puppy is often scolded for, again causing anxiety and more tension.  When you look at this vicious circle as a whole, you can see that the puppy in fact had very little choice in what it was doing and that their can be a relationship between a growth spurt in one area of the body and a seemingly unrelated behavioural problem.

Here are two simple exercises to try with your puppy.

Different surfaces

This puppy is being led slowly over a variety of different surfaces, in this case the laminate surface of the desk, carpet tiles, and white plastic sheeting.  The non-habitual feeling of the new surfaces gives the puppy new sensations through its feet (which are more sensitive than you would expect) the more grounded the puppy is on its feet the greater confidence it will have in life, especially when it comes to new or unusual situations.  Notice how the puppy walks tentatively over the surfaces, placing each foot very carefully.  These exercises should be fun and he is being encouraged with toy, to him this is one big game!

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Walk over poles

The use of walk over poles encourages greater coordination and proprioceptive input, it is essential that they are step over poles and NEVER raised into jumps, for this could damage a puppy’s delicate bone structure.  What you use us is up to you, pieces of dowel, rolled up tea towels, cardboard tubes anything, just use your imagination but keep it safe.

We are all familiar with the mental experiences we need to give puppies in order to encourage them to become well balanced adult dogs, however with the use of the TTouch a whole new avenue of physical stimulation is being opened up.  By using the exercises shown, your puppy can be helped to mature quicker and with less of the issues so commonly experienced.

The walk over poles being used here are a piece of TTouch equipment known as a wand (though you can use almost anything as long as it is safe)  The puppy here is learning to carefully place each foot in turn.  As puppies have very short attention spans, it is important to make sessions short so as not to overexert them.

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Many people are amazed at the differences the TTouch can make to adult dogs; indeed it is proving invaluable to many rescue centres across the country.  If puppies can be offered this simply and revolutionary work from a young age, the possibilities are endless.  Breeders and rescue centres with newborn young can make huge changes to puppies and their future development.  In rescue centres, where socialisation of puppies can be hard to the risk of catching diseases, the TTouch work offers an opportunity to safely develop their minds.  Above all TTouch should be a fun and enjoyable way for every one of us to positively affect the dogs of the future.

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Giving your puppy the Magic TTouch

Spike's World

Everybody loves puppies!  With their playful ways and cute appearance you can’t help but want to wrap them in cotton wool with many of the maternal feelings we have for our own children.  However in all too short a length of time they grow to become adult dogs and it is our duty to give them as good a start as we can.  In addition to puppy classes the Tellington TTouch can be extremely helpful in raising a well adjusted adult dog.

The Tellington TTouch is a unique and rewarding way of working with all animals. Developed over 30 years ago by Linda Tellington Jones, TTouch offers ways to help animals overcome a wide variety of behavioural problems without the use of dominance, fear or force.  Using a combination of bodywork and ground exercises the TTouch aims to improve the physical balance of the animal, as physical balance is achieved so mental and emotion balance follows.  The behaviour of an animal can be linked to its posture in many ways, animals with tension through the hindquarters can often be afraid of loud noises such as fireworks, they may be reluctant to being picked up and placed on a veterinarians table and may be badly behaved in the car.  With the use of TTouch these patterns of tension can be removed along with the unwanted behaviour.

Puppy brains are like sponges yet are beginning to show adult brain waves by the age of 8 weeks. Socialisation not only helps to influence emotional responses but also has been shown to increase the numbers of neural connections made within the brain, thus increasing the dog’s potential for learning.  A study was carried out with horses whereby their brain wave pattern were measured whilst being TTouched, consistently it was shown that all four brain waves (alpha, beta theta and delta) were produced when being TTouched.  Petting, stroking and brushing produced no change, only the circular TTouched produced this amazing change in the animal’s brain waves.  It has been proven that puppies raised in a stimulating environment have an increased ability to cope with stress in later life, so if we are able to stimulate our puppy’s brains with TTouch then the potential to increase their ability to learn is enormous!

Just like children, puppies have little idea of what the world expects of them and how to behave, ‘bad’ puppies are often showing signs of worry or anxiety or possibly reacting to pain or discomfort in their own bodies.  These behaviours are reactive and instinctive; nature governs how each animal will respond to the situation.  Some puppies will roll over in a submissive type gesture others will run away while others will mouth or bite.  By using TTouch it is possible to bring animals into a state of awareness whereby the animal is brought into a thinking state rather than the instinctive reactive mode normally seen.  This ‘thinking’ state does away with the need for the harsh, negative behaviour modification methods we are all trying to move away from.

As well as learning all about the world around them, puppies are also on a voyage of self discovery, if one considers how long a human baby has to learn how to coordinate its limbs of it’s own will it is amazing that a puppy can do all it can in such a shot space of time.  It is no wonder therefore ,that in the process some body parts get left behind of forgotten about, resulting in rather bumbling gangly puppies!  With the use of TTouch bodywork we can give the body feedback as to what is where allowing the animal to achieve a much more balanced posture and mind from day one.

Ear TTouch

Taking the ear in the direction it grows (Upwards for pointy eared dogs or horizontal for floppy eared dogs) and gently stroking from base to tip, with each stroke covering a different part of the ear you can soon help to calm an excitable or nervous puppy.  This is especially useful when you first take your puppy home to calm it without promoting an unhealthy attachment which will prove hard to rectify later in life.

Ear TTouch

Notice how this puppy is being settled with another hand, the use of the second hand helps to give a feeling of containment.  It is very important not to hold the puppy down at any time as it should always have the opportunity to move if it wishes.

Mouth TTouch

Many puppies will be mouthy or licky and most will go through a chewing stage.  Licking and mouthing are often emotional responses to fear or anxiety as can chewing objects. Mouth TTouches involve making small, light circular movements of the outside of the dogs mouth, with persistence you should soon be able to make the same light, circular movements on the INSIDE of the puppy’s mouth on the gums (Your fingers may need to be moistened with a little water first) This helps to calm to anxious, emotional behaviour commonly seen in new puppies.  The mouth TTouch also helps reduce the irritation caused during teething, reducing the puppy’s wish to chew every hard object you own!

Mouth work

This puppy is lying down enjoying the Mouth TTouch; however she still finds it rather unusual.  The Mouth TTouch is very light and not uncomfortable; dogs will often push you away to start with simply because it’s a strange sensation.  The Mouth TTouch is all the more important for puppies to learn to accept having their mouths handled for tooth brushing and vet visits.

Tail TTouch

As I sad puppies have to learn about their bodies in a relatively short space of time, often they are still unsure where they start and where they end!  By using the Tail TTouch we can give a puppy information as to where it is in space not only helping the puppy to balance but helping to prevent the usual clumsiness so common in adolescent dogs.

The tail TTouch involves very gently moving each vertebra from the base to the tip. I can’t stress enough how gentle these movements are as the tail is very delicate.  The Tail may also be gently circled at the base.  The aim isn’t to see how far the tail can be moved but to gently give the body information as to where its tail is and what it does!  It is also said that certain endorphins, or ‘happy hormones’ are released when the tail is moved in this way, helping to calm a puppy.

An overly anxious puppy with a continually wagging tail can be calmed by gently holding the tail, causing the dog to stop wagging, rather like a hysterical person made to sit to calm down, stopping the movement of the tail often results in an instantly calm puppy.

Tail TTouch

After an initial confusion, most puppies love the Tail TTouch, this puppy has become totally relaxed at the gentle movements.  When the Tail TTouches is being done, it is useful to feel for kinks and bumps as these can indicate levels of tension in other places.

Belly lifts

Have you ever noticed how you get ‘butterflies in your stomach’ when you feel worried? Puppies can suffer the same, often holding a great deal of tension in their abdomen often resulting in vomiting especially in the car.  Ideally we would like a puppy’s experience of the car to be as positive as possible to prevent problems in later life.  By using a small towel or your clasped hands to make slow, gentle lifting movements, you can work to reduce the tension through the abdomen.


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This puppy is having gentle Belly lifts with a piece of kitchen towel, the lifting movement is tiny, only 10mm of so.  Notice how, in picture two, the puppy has relaxed his spine allowing his back to be much more flexible, also he is now standing more squarely with both hind feet being level, as apposed to having one foot behind him as in picture one.

The TTouch offers a fun opportunity for the whole family to have a positive influence of the life of their new family member.  Children take to the TTouch movements with ease and it can be a fantastic way to teach a young child to interact with a puppy, counteracting their instinctive need to grab and cuddle!  Each TTouch movement is complete and every TTouch will make a difference.

Above all remembering that your puppy is often behaving instinctively and knows no other way,  with guidance, a lot of patience and the power of TTouch we can work to make the puppy phase run as smoothly and be as fun as possible, with a well adjusted adult dog at the end of it!

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Nutrigenomics – your pets really are what they eat

Spike's World

If you’ve seen my previous post ‘Socialisation for the genes’ you will know I’m fascinated by the field of epigenetics.  For a few years now I have been wondering how we can use our new knowledge of epigenetic processes to help our pets live longer, healthier lives.  I was therefore extremely pleased to get my hands on a copy of Dr Jean Dodds and Diana Laverdure’s new book, ‘Canine nutrigenomics – the new science of feeding your dog for optimum health’ published by the fab Dogwise Publishing.

CANINE NUTRIGENOMICS – THE NEW SCIENCE OF FEEDING YOUR DOG FOR OPTIMUM HEALTH

Nutrigenomics is an emerging field which looks at the way an organism’s diet effects the genes it expresses.  We used to think an animal was born with a set of instructions from its parents and that these instructions were set in stone. However, we now know that exactly which of these genetic instructions are followed is dependent on many factors.   Much like a light switch, genes can be either switched on or off. All animals and people are born with a huge number of ‘genetic lights’ but not all of these are switched on.  The diet and life experiences we offer our pets can profoundly affect the combination of genetic lights that become switched on and can either promote health or disease.

As human beings we are all aware that we should be eating a wholesome, minimally processed, varied diet to ensure our own health, yet for decades we have been told that it is perfectly acceptable to feed a single brand of highly processed kibble to our pets for them to remain in good health. In fact we have been told that changing brands should be avoided at all costs and that we should NEVER feed any human food, as it will cause digestive problems. To me it seems totally counterintuitive that the advice we follow for our own health and wellbeing is poles apart from the way we are told to feed our animal companions.

‘Canine nutrigenomics’ offers advice on how to create a functional diet for your pets based on nutrigenomic principles and suggests a range of ingredients and ‘superfoods’ that can help a host of health conditions.

Spirulina, a form of blue-green algae can have a range of health benefits for our animal companions

Of these conditions, canine allergies are covered in great detail. Having had firsthand experience of canine atopic dermatitis, it is great to hear this terrible condition being discussed from a functional perspective rather than simply applying a medical ‘sticking plaster’ to mask the symptoms.

After reading this book, it’s pretty clear that our knowledge has surpassed the age of mindlessly scooping processed kibble into our pets’ bowls and while the convenience was great when we knew no better, the time has come to feed our pets’ genes as well as their stomachs.

 

Crufts

Crufts – breed perfection or form and function?

Spike's World

It’s that time of year again, Crufts, the world’s largest and probably the most controversial dog show.  It seems dog lovers fit into one of three distinct camps:

  • Those that love Crufts and the concept of judging a dog against its breed standard
  • Those that despise the concept of judging dogs based on appearance
  • Those that enjoy Crufts as a means of celebrating the joy of dogs but are uncomfortable with the current state of pedigree health and confirmation

While the current concern for the health of many breeds has been growing for some time, it was back in 2008 when the BBC show Pedigree Dogs Exposed, directed by Jemima Harrison was aired and gave a warts and all account of many of the horrendous health issues that have become all too commonplace in many breeds.  Of particular shock to many was the upsetting footage of a Cavalier King Charles spaniel suffering from the painful condition, syringomyelia; a condition in which the dog’s skull is in effect too small for its own brain.

I’m sure all parties agree that such horrendous genetic conditions are unacceptable and drastic work needs to be done to ensure dogs are health tested before being bred so ensure dogs with such conditions are never bred from. It was great to hear a DNA test has been developed to discover carriers of the gene that can cause Primary Open Angle Glaucoma in the  the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. however, of equal concern are the current breed standards that the dog are judged against.

In a nutshell, a breed standard is a particular set of characteristics that a ‘perfect’ example of a breed should display.  Concern has been raised that many breeds have become of such an exaggerated form that breed ‘perfection’ has become dog ‘imperfection’.

The Kennel Club has since gone on record to say “In the absence of legislation, there is no obligation on breeders to take note of the Breed Standards which promote healthy dogs.”  This statement suggests that the kennel club sees its current breed standards to be ‘healthy’ therefore dogs that conform to these breed standards must also be ‘healthy’ in their eyes.

It would take many blog posts to analyse each breed, so the following is not designed to single out any one breed above another, but it was concerning to see the confirmation of this year’s winning German Shepherd.   This particular dog was deemed closest to the breed standard of the 145 entrants but sadly its gait was so loose and its back so loped that its hind legs appeared to wobble as it walked.

In my opinion, if this wobbly gait and sloped back is not only acceptable but sought after then the kennel club needs to seriously reconsider its own breed standards.

The video below shows the judging of the 2014 German Shepherds; it’s easy to see why they’ve gained the nickname ‘half dog, half frog’ from the unnatural way their hind legs articulate.

In comparison, this video shows a typical German shepherd used in the police force. Note it’s fluid gait, straighter back and much stronger hind legs.

From these two videos alone it’s clear in my mind which represents the more functional dog. This is where the current breed standards are failing our canine companions.  True form and function appear to be playing second fiddle to a set guide to breed perfection is that is no longer fit for purpose.

With the kennel club appearing to talk the talk but not making strides to rectify the problem, as is evident from the 2015 breed winner what is the future for Crufts?

For many, Crufts represents a celebration of all things dog with agility, heelwork to music and fly-ball among the myriad of amazing non-conformation events and competitions it hosts.  Such events highlight the amazing bond between human and dog. So should these events decouple themselves from the confirmation aspect of the show and become a true celebration based on talent, rather than looks?

As such a drastic change is very unlikely to happen any time soon, should Channel 4 cease its television coverage until Crufts becomes a true celebration of happy, handsome, yet above all, HEALTHY dogs?

It would seem the jury is still out on this question for many dog lovers, but with the disappointing lack of real strides in the improvement of many severely comprised breeds, I must sadly agree that the mainstream broadcast Crufts should be reconsidered.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Socialisation for the genes

Today’s post is kindly sponsored by Spike’s World – food and accessories that are out of this world!

The domestic dog is arguably one of the most genetically diverse species on the planet, in fact the World Canine Organisation recognises over 300 individual breeds. Thousands of years of artificially selecting and breeding only the individuals most suited to the needs of humanity, rapidly produced a multitude of breeds with a body plan and temperament for every aspect of human society.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Selecting a puppy with a long pedigree family tree may seem the sure fire way to a perfect puppy.

Whilst in the main our requirement for dogs as working companions has lessened (assistance dogs aside), our obsession with pedigree and improving canine genetics is still just as prevalent as ever. The recent controversy and media coverage surrounding a spate of television documentaries highlighting the potential genetic difficulties inherent in the breeding of pedigree dogs demonstrates the emotive nature of canine genetics.

Even for those not involved in the dog-showing scene, purchasing a new puppy often involves a great deal of research into the family history of the new arrival to ensure its ancestors were as healthy as possible. It is well documented that many of the most common conditions found in our canine companions, such as hip dysplasia and allergies can have a genetic basis.

With all this knowledge and careful breeding, it might be thought that such issues would soon be confined to the past, however, research shows that our classic view of inheritance may not be as it seems, putting into question the way we breed our dogs.

Classically it was known that each parent in a breeding pair passed on its own ‘blueprint’ of genes to its offspring, so each puppy inherited half its genes from its mother and half from its father. Therefore, as long as each parent was healthy and free of behavioural issues, it was thought each puppy would all be born as a clean slate with the perfect set of genetic instructions that when nurtured with correct nutrition and socialisation, would produce equally perfect adults.

However, research has found that the blueprint of genes passed on to the next generation can be affected by the experiences (such as stress or diet) of the parents, both before and during pregnancy. Known as epigenetics (literally “on top of genetics”), the blueprint has genetic markers added to it which markedly effect the way any future offspring develop. These genetic markers can also be added to offspring as they develop in the womb, potentially moulding the young before they are even born.

The bitch may change the genetic switches of her unborn puppies whilst they are in the womb.

The bitch may change the genetic switches of her unborn puppies whilst they are in the womb.

This is not confined to animals, parents of a Swiss town who endured famine were found to produce children with a greater chance of developing diabetes in adulthood. More recently, children who were in the womb in the vicinity of the atrocities of 9/11 are now presenting with a host of terrible stress disorders, despite not even being born at the time.

These findings suggest relying on good genes and socialisation may not always be enough to ensure our dogs develop into well-rounded individuals. Potentially, the diet, everyday experiences, stresses and socialisation of a dog’s parents, grandparents and even great grandparents, may influence its health and temperament.

Such epigenetic changes to the genetic blueprint may explain the seemingly increasing prevalence of canine allergies; atopic dermatitis, for example, has become a massive problem in the Labrador retriever, despite careful selective breeding.

The link with stress may have implications for those breeders who choose to breed in a kennel environment and certainly for the rightly maligned puppy farm. A highly stressed bitch is likely to produce puppies with lower stress tolerance as adults, despite careful socialisation. The quality of the care the bitch provides her pups may affect their brain development; research with rats found that pups that did not receive regular licking from their mothers, were anxious and had ‘anxious brains’.

The prevention of stressful experiences in the pregnant mother may also prove a challenge for those who breed in a home environment; it is well documented that hormones related to stress rise when dogs are left alone and may be influenced by the interaction of other family members. Every dog owner has, at some point, witnessed his or her dog’s upset while watching a heated family discussion or argument.

Firework season may also present an issue for even the most well socialised canine, as today’s fireworks become progressively louder. If fearful experiences felt by the bitch during pregnancy can cause negative long-term changes in the puppies, it might be preferable not to breed during these months or for those looking for a new puppy to take into account exactly when their new arrival was in utero.

The move towards more biologically appropriate nutrition for our canine companions is certainly a move in the right direction, however, it is known the absence of particular nutrients, especially during pregnancy, can have a profound effect on the genetic markers the young receive. In effect, a dog’s health may not just be determined by the food it eats but by the food its mother ate too.  Can the legacy of a previously poor quality, allergen and preservative laden diet have already left its mark on our dogs’ health?

The lifestyle and upbringing of a puppy's grandparents may influence its behaviour and health. Should a puppy's family history become just as important as its family tree?

The lifestyle and upbringing of a puppy’s grandparents may influence its behaviour and health. Should a puppy’s family history become just as important as its family tree?

It is clear that changes to the genetic blueprint may occur with the experiences a dog has over its lifetime and that these experiences can be passed to the next generation. Whilst any thought of a genetic pill to wipe clean the legacy of the past is light years away, should we question the criteria we use when selecting a breeder or puppy? When asking to see the parents of a new puppy, should we in fact be asking to see their grandparents and great grandparents?  Should we be asking for records of the diet, birth date and home environment of not just the parents but also the preceding generations?

Only time will tell, but it is true to say that in light of new genetic research, the science of dog breeding may never be the same again.